A photograph of cycling teams on a road during a leg of the Tour de France race

Source: Irony Lung, theentiremikey, Flickr

Writers and speakers sometimes use quotation marks to indicate irony. For example, a writer or speaker might describe an extremely energetic person by saying, “Gee, what a ‘slug’!” Enclosing the word “slug” in quotation marks (either in print or as a gesture) signals to the audience that slug is meant ironically. The person is actually more energetic than sluggish.

Writers and speakers, however, do not always use quotation marks to indicate an ironic tone or ironic feeling. They expect the audience to understand irony without the visual clues of punctuation marks. Instead, an audience should consider the words of the writer or speaker and the topic being discussed. If the words convey a feeling about a topic that differs from what would be expected, then the writer or speaker is probably being ironic.

To understand how words can help speakers create an ironic tone, complete the following exercise. Read each excerpt from a speech about child labor given by Florence Kelley to the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1905. Identify two places in the speech where Kelley intends to be ironic. Click on the words or phrases to record your response. If the words highlight, you are correct!

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As you can see, words can create an ironic tone. Whether you are reading or listening, pay attention to the words a writer or speaker uses.